2018 Proves to Be a Tricky Year for Illinois Apple Crop

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Liberty Apple Orchard

Photo courtesy of Liberty Apple Orchard

Many Illinois apple orchards dealt with late spring blooms and late summer heat that some farmers say made for a delicate growing season.

“It wasn’t until early May when we finally had apple bloom, and we went right from there pretty much into summer,” said Steve Miller, who nurtures trees on the Liberty Apple Orchard near Edwardsville. “The combination of heat and humidity are not the best things for apples.”

Still, Miller expects his 13 varieties of more than 1,000 trees to be weighted down with plump, juicy apples for his customers who visit the Madison County orchard, which opened for the season at the end of last month.

Some apple growers in Illinois and around the country have been struggling with bitter rot, a fungal disease. Of the three rot diseases that can affect apples, bitter rot “…has the potential to be most destructive,” according to University of Illinois Extension. Practicing disciplined orchard cleanliness, which Miller abides by, is critical for control.

“A good sanitation practice in an orchard is to pick up bad fruit and move it away from the orchard,” said Miller. “That doesn’t happen by some machine. We use what we call a snow rake to remove bad apples from under the trees.”

Running an orchard can be labor-intensive, and Miller said he’s fortunate to be able to tap into local high school and college students willing to help him and his wife, Lugene, run the orchard, now in its sixth season. The Millers pay $11 an hour and hire a dozen or so students to help throughout the year.

Next month, Liberty Apple Orchard plans to partner with Hospice of Southern Illinois to honor Adam Behrhorst, one of its former young workers who succumbed to cancer late last fall.

“The date of this benefit would’ve been his 21st birthday,” said Miller.

The orchard and hospice charity plan an Apple Harvest 5K run and walk on Oct. 27 at the orchard, not far off of I-55. Miller said it will include a blue grass band and vendors. Find more information and register here. Learn more about Liberty Apple Orchard here.

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